"Tell it not to Gath": A Brief Biography of George Alfred Townsend

Located in the Maryland hills, nestled on the ridge of South Mountain lays the remains of the Gapland estate. The estate was built by a writer simply known as “Gath.” George Alfred Townsend was his given name, and he added the H to his initials for his pen name due to the biblical passage of II Samuel, 1:20 where it read “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon.” Today, many people are unaware of George Alfred Townsend. Those who do take the time to learn about him either like his personality or despise of the man. Some of his works have been compared to Walt Whitman, and to several journalists of today.

George Alfred Townsend was born on January 30th, 1841 in Georgetown, Delaware. As a child, he spent a great deal of his time in Pennsylvania, Maryland, as well as in Delaware attending various schools wherever his father, Reverend Stephen was assigned to. His parents were highly religious and strict. This was a no nonsense type of family. The first theatrical play he attended was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” After a gunshot in the theater rang out, he quickly hurried out, thinking that this was a sign from above that he shouldn’t be attending such things as theatrical performances. This was a reflection of his very strict upbringing.

Some of the schools that George attended were Newark Academy, which is now the University of Delaware. In February of 1860, George graduated from Central High School with a Bachelor in Arts degree. As a child, George was interested in writing, and had a love for nature, as well as an interest in art. At the age of 16, he published a small magazine.

The night before his graduation, George received some news that would change his life. He was told to contact the Philadelphia Inquire. He began working there as a news editor, and then became an editorial writer. Shortly afterwards in early 1861, George became a city editor for the Philadelphia Press. There he wrote about current events, poems, and then became a traveling correspondent. During this period he wrote a play called “The Bohemians.”

Upon graduating, he developed a love for travel. Using the book entitled “Fields of the Revolutionary Battlefields,” he visited many of the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. After his visit, he would write about his personal experiences there.

During the outbreak of the American Civil War, George worked for the New York Herald as a reporter in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he took on a new position as a war correspondent and his first Civil War article was about the death of Lieutenant Greble during the Battle of Big Bethel. However, during the first year of the Civil War, George found himself writing more about local events in Philadelphia as they related to the war.

By April of 1862, George was a war correspondent. He got his break when General George McClellan rode through Philadelphia on his way to Washington. George became a war correspondent with the army where he wrote a piece on the Battle of Cedar Mountain. George was forced to suspend his career when he came down with Chickahominy Fever. By the end of the year, George was recuperating and decided to travel to Europe.

While in Europe, George wrote several pieces about the Seven Days’ Battles for the New York Herald, and wrote a book that was never published. The articles he wrote were good, but they were often outdated due to the time it took to get that information across the Atlantic Ocean. While in London he traveled the circuit, lecturing about some of his experiences. He studied European literature and developed a fascination for it. Although he enjoyed Europe, he grew dissatisfied with European journalism, and by 1864, he returned to America.

Still a war correspondent, he would see the Civil War end with Grant as overall commander. While still covering the war, he experimented with his writing, but found that America had no market for literary works. George’s first touch of fame came during the closing of the Civil War, when he wrote about the battle of Five Forks. This was the article that launched his career and helped him to achieve fame. Some of his best works came from his reports while covering the events following the assignation of President Abraham Lincoln.

Townsend also covered the news stories about the Lowrie Band in North Carolina while working for the New York World. Henry B. Lowrie was the leader of the North Carolina gang who was viewed as the “Robin Hood” of his day. He fought for the civil rights of the Lumbee and Tuscarora people. Lowrie was described by Townsend as “one of those remarkable executive spirits that arises now and then in a raw community without advantages other than those given by nature.” In one of his articles Townsend enraged a gang member to the point that he threatened to kill the journalist who wrote the article.

On December 21st, 1865, George Townsend married Miss Bessie Evans Rhodes of Philadelphia. Heading into the New Year, things were going well for George. During the year he managed to have his book entitled “Campaigns of a Non-Combatant” published.

In 1866, Townsend and his wife left America to travel to Paris where he covered the Austro-Prussian War. In October of that same year in Paris, his first child was born. He visited one of the Prussian camps where more than a 100,000 soldiers encamped, and felt that a war with France was inevitable, a feeling that came true in 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War. By 1867, George would see the end of the Austro-Prussian War while still in Paris.

George Townsend and his family moved to Washington DC shortly after returning to America. George wanted to study government. As a young writer, George became a major success, being employed by just about every major newspaper in the U.S. This career spanned for almost forty years. In 1868, in the Chicago Tribune, George Alfred Townsend used the penname GATH. This would have an influence once he began building his estate later on.

George was a successful man. He had several books published including “Katy of the Catoctin” and “Tales of the Chesapeake.” You can still buy many of his books today. Life was good for George. He spent most of his money in his early years on books, travel, and experiences. In his honor he even had a cigar named after him, and then race horses, and post offices, to the point where GATH became a sort of trademark.

Even though he was a writer, he often turned down jobs, hoping to leave journalism in the past and begin exploring more along the literary style as a means to earn his living. He was also a successful lecturer among the high society Washington bureaucrats. While living in Washington, he found that his writing schedule was very harsh. He was always busy, and shortly after his 40th birthday, he found he needed a place where he could go and get away from the stress of his work. George found that place in late 1884.

On October 17th, 1884, George was taking a buggy ride with a friend and happened upon the Crampton’s Gap Battlefield. He fell in love with the area due to the surroundings of nature, and knew this was where he wanted to have his retreat from Washington. On December 18th, he owned one hundred acres of land and named this estate Gapland. By late December of 1884 and early 1885, he built the first building, naming it Askalon.

With his passion for nature and art, he began constructing several buildings. By the time it was finished, there were over nine buildings in total, including the Gapland Hall, library & den, the lodge, barn, and out buildings for his children and guests. One of the buildings was a toll house that he built to keep up improvements of the public road, an idea unpopular with local residents. Aside from the buildings, there were over ten structures on the property, two of those structures still stand today. They are Gath’s empty tomb and the War Correspondent’s Arch.

The estate was built during a period known as the “Resort era”. Many estates were built along the ridge of South Mountain from Gapland to Blue Ridge Summit. Although there is no connection to the time period of Gapland, these communities witnessed inner city bureaucrats traveling to these places for the cooler weather in the summertime.

Upon visiting the battlefield of Antietam in 1895, George noticed that there were monuments being constructed, itinerary markers, and battle lines being memorialized. He felt that the non-combatant would be a forgotten. So Gath took on the project, and in my opinion, erected one of the most unusual monuments that have ever been constructed. This is the War Correspondent’s Arch.

In Decmeber of 1895, plans were being drawn for the monument. During the initial drawing stage he incorporated something that he had seen at Hagerstown on his way to Gapland. These features were a horseshoe arch on a railroad station, and watch tower at the fire house. Gath contacted several war correspondents, and after their blessing, he began to raise the money needed to construct the monument. He had created flyers and sent them to every newspaper agency that he had worked for. Donations soon came in including donations from his friends Thomas Edison, JP Morgan, and George Pullman. Soon Gath had $5,000.00 to build his monument. John Smithmeyer volunteered his architectural experiences, and construction of the monument began.

Completed in 1896, at fifty feet tall and forty feet wide, this monument has many architectural themes that were incorporated into the drawing stage. Looking at the monument today, you can see how Gath also incorporated his love for art and nature. In her book “George Alfred Townsend,” Ruthanna Hindes describes the monument best:

“Above a Moorish arch sixteen feet high, built of Hummelstown purple stone are super-imposed three Roman arches. These are flanked on one side with a square crenellated tower, producing a bizarre and picturesque effect. Niches in different places shelter the carving of two horses’ heads, and symbolic terra cotta statuettes of Mercury, Electricity and Poetry. Tables under the horses’ heads bear the suggestive words “Speed” and “Heed”; the heads are over the Roman arches. The three Roman arches are made of limestone from Creek Battlefield, Virginia, and each is nine feet high and six feet wide. These arches represent Description, Depiction and Photography.”

“The aforementioned tower contains a statue of Pan with the traditional pipes, and he is either half drawing or sheathing a Roman sword. Over a small turret on the opposite side of the tower is a gold vane of a pen bending a sword. At various places on the monument are quotations appropriate to the art of war correspondence. These are from a great variety of sources beginning with Old Testament verses. Perhaps the most striking feature of all are the tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who saw and described in narrative and picture almost all the events of the four years of the war.”

The unusual arched monument was dedicated by Maryland Governor Lloyd Lowndes on October 17, 1896. This was the beginning of the downfall for George Alfred Townsend. In 1903, his wife Bessie, passed away, and instead of being buried in the tomb on the Gapland Estate property, she was buried in Philadelphia.

In 1904, George turned over the arch to the National Park Service, to be maintained as a National Monument. Soon afterwards, George’s age caught up with him and it seemed as if he spent more time in Washington rather than traveling to Gapland. While visiting one of his children, Gath became sick and soon passed away. After Gath’s death on April 15, 1914, he was buried next to his wife, and his daughter sold the Gathland estate. The empty tomb at Gathland simply states “Goodnight Gath,” a reminder to him where life’s journey will take you in the end.

Today less than one-third of the Gapland estate still stands, and is part of the Maryland Park Service simply called Gathland State Park. Gapland Hall is only a fraction of what once stood and serves as a museum dedicated to the man. You have a small portion of the lodge that still stands as well as ruins of the barn. The lodge also serves as a Civil War museum dedicated to the Battle of South Mountain with special exhibits on the Battle of Crampton’s Gap. Two of the other houses still stand, but are private residental homes. One of those houses was the tollgate and is located at the intersection of Townsend and Gapland Roads. Today the monument fall’s under the care of Antietam National Battlefield and stands as a reminder to those who risked their lives to bring the civilian population the news from the battlefields of the American Civil War.

The Dahlgren Connection to South Mountain

This is totally off subject relating to the Civil War period upon South Mountain, but it does have a small connection. Let’s talk about the Dahlgren connection. Mrs. Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren moved to South Mountain shortly after the death of her husband Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren who passed away on July 12th, 1870. Although the South Mountain Inn still stands which served as her home, her famous structure on the mountain is the Dahlgren Chapel that stands on the site of a Confederate artillery position during the Battle of South Mountain. Construction of the Dahlgren Chapel began in 1881, and was completed in 1884. Today the Central Maryland Heritage League owns Mrs. Dahlgren’s chapel and rents it out for weddings and such.

Mrs. Dahlgren’s husband, Admiral John A. Dahlgren, was a naval officer during the American Civil War. Before the war broke out, he enlisted in the Navy as a midshipman, and by 1847, he was assigned to the Navy’s Ordnance Bureau at Washington, D.C. By 1850, Lieutenant Dahlgren began working on weaponry.

One of the cannon Dahlgren designed in particular is the bronze 12-pound boat howitzer. In 1849, Dahlgren began designing a smoothbore bronze cannon that could either be mounted for use on a boat or mounted to a carriage for field usage. During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, less than a dozen of these cannon were used by the Union troops who participated in the Maryland Campaign.

Why focus on this particular cannon? On January 12th, 2011, it was announced by the Department of Natural Resources that they had purchased a Dahlgren 12-pound boat howitzer that was used during the Oyster Wars on Chesapeake Bay. The Oyster industry was huge industry following the Civil War to about 1890, and with it came problems. In 1868, the Maryland State government created the Oyster Police. Hunter Davidson, a former Confederate Naval officer, after assuming his post, requested that his ship, the Leila be supplied with cannon. Commander Davidson received the Dahlgren 12-pounder. The Dahlgren 12-pounder was made at the Richmond foundry known as Tredegar Iron Works.

In 1884, the steam-power Leila was replaced by a more modern vessel named the Governor R. M. McLane. During the time period of the Oyster Wars, the cannon saw lots of action according the DNR press release combating the poachers, or what is referred to Oyster Pirates. Poachers used dredgers that often illegally harvested the Maryland Oysters from the Chesapeake Bay using metal baskets that would drag across oyster beds. Because of this pitched skirmishes occurred, sometimes resulting in bloodshed between the Maryland State Oyster Police and the illegal dredgers. In 1891, the cannon was retired and replaced with a more modern artillery piece.

I applaud the efforts of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Natural Resource Police for purchasing the cannon that was used during this time period. The Dahlgren cannon was purchased from the American Legion Post 116 for $40,000, half of that price was contributed by a private donor. The cannon is now resting in a temporary home at the headquarters for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Read the press release

Lee’s Famous Staff Officer Walter Taylor Jr.

Walter Herron Taylor Jr. who was named after his father Walter Sr. was born on June 13th, 1838. He was one of several children of a very prominent Virginia family. Walter Taylor attended the Norfolk Military Academy. He then entered the V.M.I. in 1854 at the age of 16. However, he would depart from the V.M.I. following his fathers’ death a year later.

Did you know this 1/4th Plate Melainotype of Walter H. Taylor sold for $44,812.50 in December of 2006.

After his fathers’ death, Walter started his business career until it was interrupted by the onset of the Civil War. Prior to his enlistment in the Confederate Army, he served in Company F, of the Norfolk Volunteer Militia where in 1860; he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. This organization would become Company G of the 6th Virginia Infantry. He joined the Confederate Army on the day Virginia announced her secession in 1861. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed as a staff officer serving with General Robert E. Lee, whom he was very fond of. Lee had been a big influence in young Walter Taylor’s life.

After the Civil War had ended, a series of photographs were taken at General Lee’s home in Richmond on April 16, 1865 by Mathew Brady’s firm. As General Lee wore his uniform for the last time, his staff stood by his side forever associating Walter Taylor with General Lee. The photograph was simply called General Lee and his Staff. When General Lee passed away on October 12, 1870, among those who attended his funeral was Colonel Walter Taylor. Taylor had now said his last good bye to a man he had come to love and respect.

During the years following the Civil War, Walter Taylor and his wife had four sons and four daughters and his family came first in every aspect of his life. His sons were Walter Taylor III, Richard C. Taylor, J. Saunders Taylor and Robert E. Lee Taylor. His daughters were Bland, Thomlin, Steele, and Elizabeth Taylor. He devoted his life to God and family. He lived the life of a Virginia gentleman and businessman, serving as Senator in the Virginia General Assembly, and attorney for the Norfolk and Western Railway and the Virginian Railway. He engaged in the hardware business for a few years with his partner Andrew S. Martin and the business eventually operated as the W.H. Taylor and Company. In 1870, the V.M.I. announced that Walter Taylor was honorary graduate of his class.

Walter Taylor was interested in the banking business and his interest had grown considerably and in 1877, he became president of the Marine Bank, a post he held with distinction until his death. He later wrote about his experiences in the Confederate Army as a member of General Lee’s Staff that is simply called “Four Years with General Lee” and another called “General Lee 1861-1865”. This book covered every campaign that General Lee was engaged in from Cheat Summit Fort, in West Virginia to the surrender at Appomattox, Virginia. He wrote numerous articles about the Civil War. He even kept in contact with many Confederate officers and answered questions when they too were writing about their experiences.

Lt. Colonel Taylor Returns to Pennsylvania
The backyard of the Cascade Inn. Photo courtesy, Cascade Inn.

By the late 1870’s, Cascade, Monterey, Blue Ridge Summit and PenMar became a resort of the beautiful mansions and hotels. PenMar became a beautiful park that had a breath taking view of the Cumberland Valley which Waynesboro, Ringgold, and Greencastle can be seen in the background. The area became home to many high society families that lived in Washington, Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia during the summer months of July and August and used the area as a vacation resort because of the cooler temperatures and the mountain breeze that flowed through the air instead of the humid living conditions of the big city. The area was popular until the Depression of 1929. Several of these mansions can still be seen today.

In 1890, Walter Taylor returned to the Monterey area, where the Union Cavalry under General Kilpatrick attacked a portion of General Ewell’s wagon train. The same area where Walter Taylor himself rode with his beloved general after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. The Taylor Summerhouse at Cascade in Washington County, Maryland once entertained the retired Colonel and his family. Mr. Taylor would recall his Civil War days by telling guest and family about what the area was like when they came through.

Folklore has it that he came back to the area because he had fell in love with Monterey after observing the scenery during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. However, one of Walter Taylor’s daughters was treated at the Victor Cullen Center for various breathing disorders. This maybe why Taylor had a summer residents at Cascade. Victor Cullen is located just outside of Sabillasville and was once called the Hilltop State Hospital. After being built in 1907, Victor Cullen was the first state funded tuberculosis sanatorium in Maryland and later would become a state hospital until 1965 when the Department of Juvenile Services took it over.

The Taylor Summer House located on Taylor Avenue (Eyler Avenue today) was still occupied by the Taylor family until the 1950’s when it was sold. Following the year after the purchase of a summer home, Walter Taylor’s son Walter Taylor III, a V.M.I. Cadet served as captain and coach of the first football team in 1891 in the Virginia Military Institute and was honored as the Founder of V.M.I. Football adding another sport for cadets to participate in. The V.M.I. was among the first schools to have a football program in the south. Before football, the V.M.I. Baseball had started a year following the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox.

Lt. Colonel Walter Taylor died on March 1, 1916 from cancer and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery at Norfolk, Virginia. All four of his sons and three of his son-in-laws were the pallbearers. Four months later his wife Bettie died. A year later his older brother died after leading a successful life as a Railroad Official and a teacher. Following the death of their parents, five of Taylor siblings continued to live in and around Blue Ridge Summit during the summer months. Lt. Colonel Taylor’s two sons Walter Taylor III of Norfolk, Virginia (who may locals recall him as Walter Jr.) and Robert E. Lee Taylor of Baltimore, Maryland, and three of his daughters Bland Taylor, Steele Taylor and Thomlin Taylor. The Taylor families were very prominent citizens in the area and were respected by all who knew them.

Walter Taylor’s daughter, Bland owned her parents’ former summer home. Two other houses also occupied the property in which Walter Taylor III, lived in one and his sister Steele lived in the other. During the 1930’s, Bland’s summer home caught on fire and she had it rebuilt on the same foundation where it stands today, the exact way she remembered it. She moved in with her brother next door, while construction took place. Bland never married.

Walter Taylor, III, Football uniform. V.M.I. Archives.

Walter Taylor III became close friends with Blue Ridge Summit resident Doctor Harvey Bridgers who had moved there to practice medicine in 1916. Doctor Bridgers was the family doctor that the Taylor’s saw when they lived in the area during the summertime. His office was located about a block away from the Taylor property across from the Blue Ridge Summit Library.

One day, they took a ride along the Old Waynesboro and Emmitsburg Turnpike. Walter III showed Doctor Bridgers, a series of rocks. He told Dr. Bridgers that one day his father Colonel Taylor took him here and showed him the same rocks. Walter III then recalled, the story that during the retreat from Gettysburg his father and General Lee had a small repast early during the day as the weary soldiers marched by. The large four rocks were perfectly flattened and resembled a table. He soon dubbed the term “Lee’s Rocks”.

Walter Taylor’s other son, Robert E. Lee Taylor bought a home located on Chairmian Lane that he lived in during the summer. During the late 1940’s Robert E. Lee Taylor was a member of the Monterey Country Club, where he socialized with other patrons who were also members. The Monterey Country Club is one of the oldest Country Clubs in the country. One story that is about Robert E. Lee Taylor that is told to me is the fact that he owned a coup. He always drove up and over the mountain in second gear.

Steele Taylor, Walter Taylor’s other daughter also lived on the Taylor property. Her house was located to the left of the rebuilt home that belonged to her sister Bland. Steele had funded a church for the African-American servants for those who traveled with the higher-class families and it was located on Church Street near the railroad tracks. Every year the colored church held small concerts or musicals to raise money that would go back into the their church.

Today, many Mountaintop residents are unaware that General Lee’s most valued Staff Officer made his summer residence in the Blue Ridge Summit area. Many who knew them respected the Taylor family. After the 1950’s, the Taylor roots seem to have faded with time. Many of the summer homes that the Taylor family once called home are still there. Many who came in contact with Taylor’s children never knew that their father was a famous man known for his connection with Robert E. Lee. The present day Taylor house still stands to this day and is now called the Cascade Inn.